I was recently listening to Nevermind by Nirvana, and it got me thinking about the 90s - and more specifically music of that decade. From that thought, I started to think what my favourite albums would be of that said time period. The 1990's were a strange time, the last decade of the 20th Century saw major changes in not only music but in society, technology, and politics. Musically, hip-hop morphed from the 70s New York scene into the huge money-making machine it is today. Artists such as Nas, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube were all massive. Alas, hip-hop doesn't trump rock for mine, therefore you will not see a hip-hop album on this list (sorry hip-hop fans.. I will say though that Illmatic by Nas is my favourite hip-hop album of that era). I also grew up during the 90s - from the ages of 3-13. Even though I didn't get to listen to most of these albums till after the 90s were finished, I can look back on them as being a part of my childhood.
Note on selection: As I was scrolling through my iTunes library, filtered for the 90s, I noticed that there were certain bands that featured with a few albums; some bands that are my favourite of all time. Therefore I placed a selection criteria on myself that only one album per band was allowed, otherwise this list would have only 2-3 bands. There is no other caveat, just for the music to be awesome!
Pearl Jam - Ten (1991)
The debut album by Seattle grunge band, Pearl Jam blew many people away. It features on top 10 albums lists all over the Internet. I think the reason for this is because Eddie Vedder's lyrics about (quoting wikipedia) "suicide, depression, loneliness, and murder" were a fresh change (if you could call it that) to the preppy dance tunes of the 80s.
Their live shows were well documented, filling out clubs, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, driving crowds wild. An infamous day in the bands touring schedule occurred on 30 June, 2000 at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark at which 9 people were crushed to their death against the fence during their performance (read about the circumstances here). The album itself is amazing, filled with great songs such as 'Jeremy' and 'Oceans', two perfect examples of the magic of Pearl Jam.
9. Oasis - Definitely Maybe (1994)
If grunge was the thing that made rock music popular again in the US, then 'Britpop' was the thing that made rock music popular again in the UK. Along with other British bands such as Blur, Oasis' debut album Definitely Maybe was a driving force in the Britpop movement.
My mate Ryan was (and still is) a huge fan of Oasis when I was growing up, not failing to show me some new live DVD of Oasis whenever I went over his house. Although I listened to their second album [(What's the Story) Morning Glory?] more growing up, I think that Definitely Maybe is my favourite. It has such a raw sound, with Liam Gallagher's rusty voice and brother Noel's tasty guitar licks. The standout track is 'Live Forever', a bright pop song that epitomises Oasis and the whole Britpop scene - a stark contrast to the Depressing lyrics by grunge bands of the same era.
Read this cool quote that I took from Wikipedia to see what I mean: "Noel Gallagher explained that "At the time . . . it was written in the middle of grunge and all that, and I remember Nirvana had a tune called 'I Hate Myself and I Want to Die', and I was like . . . 'Well, I'm not fucking having that.'"
8. Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
This album is probably made more powerful and poetic by the death of Buckley in 1997, aged 30 - making Grace his only finished album. Even so, these facts don't steal away from it's beauty. The opening track 'Mojo Pin' instantly takes me to another world where unicorns frolic and double rainbows are on every horizon. The title track follows - another gem. Buckley's voice is stunning, shown off in the epic 'Hallelujah'.
The album isn't all soft stuff either, this guy knows how to rock, but at the right times; because if it were any harder, then it wouldn't be the delicious ear-candy that it is.
7. Ween - The Mollusk (1997)
For those of you who haven't heard of Ween, they are two guys from Pennsylvania, USA named Gene Ween and Dean Ween (those aren't their real names...) who formed in 1984. Since then they have made some of the most out there and interesting music. It was a hard choice between The Mollusk and their 1994 outing Chocolate and Cheese, in the end it came down to me flipping a coin.
Lee, Eden and I had the opportunity of seeing them in Sydney a couple of years ago (they have other band members), and the experience of seeing them was strange. The lead guitarist (Dean) is amazing, almost too amazing. He played like a 15 minute guitar solo... it almost became uncomfortable. But that's their appeal, they push the boundaries. If Dean Ween wants to play a 15 minute guitar solo, Dean Ween plays a 15 minute guitar solo.
Their style ranges from mellow space-out drug anthems, to hard rock head-bangers, to comedic pieces. The track 'Mutilated Lips' is probably my favourite on The Mollusk - probably because it reminds me of gazing out the window of an Amtrack train at the lush Midwestern countryside, circa 2006, when the days were long and carefree.
6. Something for Kate - Elsewhere for 8 Minutes (1997)
This album has a special place in my heart. I don't know anyone else who likes it apart from my Mum. She bought it when it came out and played it in her car, so naturally I heard it too. It is probably the only album on this list that I actually got into when it came out. Mum and I went to the Australian music festival Homebake in December 1999 and saw Something for Kate play (we also went the following year, how cool's my Mum!).
For a three piece they can really generate some serious noise. The drumming on the opening track 'Anarchitect' is outstanding, as is the drumming throughout the album. Perhaps the most well-known track is 'Captain (Million Miles An Hour)', another great tune. For a debut album, and an Aussie band at that, I think it's a phenomenal effort. An interesting note on the title (from Wiki of course), is that it refers to the time it takes light travelling from the sun to reach planet earth - awesome.
5. Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
The first memory I have of this album is sitting in Chris Stavely's bedroom in Thornleigh in probably year 5 (1997); he had it playing on these huge speakers really loudly, I felt like such a rebel!! That's what this album evokes in me, a feeling of being a rebel without a cause. Kurt Cobain's lyrics are very much like Eddie Vedder's, in that they make you feel depressed and angry.. but pleased to feel these emotions at the same time - a rare quality that only a few bands are able to achieve.
As discussed in my intro, I listened to this album the other day for the first time in probably 5 years, and it brought back a flood of memories. Every song is perfect, with layers that I hadn't discovered until I heard it the other day. For an album to make me think about a decade in which it was made must say something about its impact, and its lasting effect on music history.
4. Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)
This was another album that Mum bought when it came out, however I didn't listen to it extensively at the time, it became a favourite when I started to get into Radiohead around year 11-12 of highschool. This was another debate for best album, just for the fact that Radiohead has so many greats. Their second album released two years earlier in 1995 (The Bends) is just as good, but for different reasons. That album features more traditional rock sounds, with little electronic engineering. But that's what makes OK Computer so awesome, in that they employ the use of "electroneering" very effectively, even though the majority of the album features guitar.
If I were to choose a favourite song from this album (if you were to be so cruel), then it would probably be 'Exit Music (For A Film)'. It is much slower than most of the other songs, but it just gets you, in that little spot at the back of your throat, and is able to swell my eyes almost every time I hear it.
3. Built to Spill - Perfect from Now On (1997)
Doug Martsch really is a genius. His guitar playing abilities mixed with his song writing abilities mixed with his unique vocal style all make him somewhat of an enigma in rock music. Built to Spill were one of the original 'indie' bands, along with Dinosaur Jr., that made really cool music and influenced other cool bands such as Death Cab for Cutie.
This album blew me away when Lee first showed it to me around 2006-07ish. The long tracks that build into a crescendo, sometimes exploding, sometimes fading away into a black hole of noise ate into my soul. The third track 'Stop The Show' is definitely a stand-out on this album, but so is every song - they are all one in my eyes. When Lee and I saw them at the Metro in Sydney a couple of years ago it was one of the greatest things I have ever seen. They finished with a 20 minute rendition of 'Randy Described Eternity', the opening track from the album, and funnily enough the only one from this album they played at that particular gig.
I later found out that when Lee saw them at a gig a couple of weeks later at Petersham Bowling Club (really really small venue), they were taking requests and played a perfect version of 'Untrustable Part 2 (About Someone Else)' - a song they hadn't practised, let alone played live, in years. A testament to the 'show-stopping' abilities of this great band.
2. The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner - Ben Folds Five (1999)
Remember when I said in the introduction that I had placed a restriction on myself to choose only one album per band? Well, Ben Folds Five are the reason I did that. All three of their albums are fantastic - three albums that spanned four years of piano-rock extravaganza. The first two albums (1995s self-titled Ben Folds Five, and 1997s Whatever and Ever Amen), were both recorded in a self-made recording studio in Ben's garage. For the their third and final album they had enough funds to get in a proper recording studio and employ a full orchestra to accompany some tracks, which makes for simply outstanding music.
Ben Folds Five consists of a piano, a bass guitar and drums - an arrangement that you would usually find in a jazz trio, except they make such a unique sound using the tools they have with Ben's songs as their words. Along with all the great music that I've heard, Lee put me onto BFF. He had a small love affair with them when he was younger, often getting teased in highschool, with quips such as Bens Folds, and 'Bens Folds Five Suck' written on his bag with permanent marker lol (kids can be so cruel). I digress, if it weren't for Lee putting up with all that crap and sticking to his guns of what he loved and not conforming into a douche-bag loser; then I wouldn't be writing this article. So here's to you Lee! (*Takes sip of beer*).
1. The Soft Bulletin - The Flaming Lips (1999)
This is not only my favourite album of the 1990s, but of all time. The Flaming Lips are unlike any other band - they have changed my life. When Lee and I were in Canada in 2008 for the Pemberton Festival, we got the chance to see The Flaming Lips live. Their live show is unlike anything you'll ever experience, even if you haven't heard their music and they're in your area, go and see them! Their roadies (all dressed in the same outfit) started to assemble the gear on stage. And then, Steven Drozd (member of Flips) came on stage as well - we both looked at each other with amazement.. band members never come on stage before the show! He was just casually setting up his own gear (probably because only he knows how...), with the festival crowd not really knowing what was going on - but Lee and I did, and so did a few other Freaks in the crowd. Surely enough, Michael Ivins came on stage to tune his bass, this wasn't happening! A very unusual sound test followed (which we later found out a year later when they came to Sydney, was part of their show), and then the actual gig started.
The opening song to The Soft Bulletin (Race For The Prize) started, just the instruments, allowing one man that I look up to and always has a smile on his face, Wayne Coyne (frontman extraordinaire) came out in a giant bubble and crowd-surfed. I touched that bubble and it was the happiest day of my life.
Oh yeah, the album's pretty cool too :)